The Lost Art of Activity Sampling

Activity Sampling and more over Time Study Techniques seem to be a lost art within Manufacturing nowadays. I was taught everything comes down to time, and we need to look at the most efficient way we use that time in everything we do.

Activity Sampling for me, is one of those essential tools that you keep in your back pocket, a fantastic technique that enables to economically study a lengthy activity or a group of activities producing statistically accurate data.


What is Activity Sampling?

Over a period of time a group of machines, processes or people can be observed at regular intervals to record what activities are being undertaken. Each observation records what’s happening at that particular time, this then builds to measure a percentage of time that activity occurs thought-out the hour, day, etc.

This technique is particularly useful to estimate the proportion of Value-Added Time to Non Value-Added time that occurs within your business processes. Example observations could be machine breakdowns, moving material, change-overs, waiting, Operating, filling in paperwork, etc. These examples are more aligned to the manufacturing operations point of view, but it is as equally as important in back-office processes and even looking at your own internal time-wasting activities to raise personal productivity.


An Example Activity Sampling in Action

In this example three people/processes are being activity sampled regarding ‘packing’, the activity was completed over a 2 hour period with observations every 2 minutes. The results are shown in the images below.



The above images illustrate the allocated percentages of each activity, we can now start to analyse to see what improvements can be made to work smarter (NOT HARDER), this can go hand in hand with spaghetti diagram to illustrate material and person movement, more detailed time Study work and process mapping.

You ‘ll notice that Packing Process 2 has no computer time in the two hours, as we analyse and ask around the variation, Process Packing 2 batches all of their paperwork up first and then processes it in one hit. Activity sampling would have picked this out even if we had of observed it, as the observation percentage compared to the other two processes would have been higher.



  • It gives unbiased result.
  • lts study may be interrupted at any time without affecting the results.
  • It can be conducted by anyone with limited training.
  • Team work can be studied by activity sampling.
  • It is economical and less time consuming than time study.

Productivity – SMEs Making Slow Progress

UK Productivity and the SME focus

I do find it interesting in reading reports on UK Productivity and the SME focus on how there are a lot of SMEs making slow progress in this arena.

If we step back, which some reports have eluded to… the SME government funded programmes have always been based on growth and employment opportunities (NOT Productivity) so is it any wonder we have some issues. Growth and employment is an excellent focus and most SMEs want more, albeit it does bring its own set of issues and problems.

Additionally in reviewing the Growth and Employment Objective, I also question some of the programmes themselves. When I see that surveys have been completed across their customer base and the customer has highlighted they want Strategy and Tactical Planning, Continuous Improvement, but have been sold Website upgrades, Public Relations, etc. (again though this is aligned to the programme output of growth and employment??? Wrong objective, wrong KPI perhaps???)

Have we shot ourselves in the foot with the focus on Growth and Employment? In some respects, possibly, but we can do something about it? If we accept that’s it’s a problem of course.

Do we need to focus internally? Absolutely, if you want to drive productivity this is where the focus needs to be. (regardless of whether its operations, sales, back office)


Growth is far easier with operations that generate predictable and repeatable results. If they are not stable (least waste way of working) we will now exacerbate the effect on our already poor operational processes and performance (ie: Productivity)

Productivity is only one of the key KPI’s within a business, along with On Time Delivery, Quality, Cash, Profit, etc.. each may have a gap that needs to be worked on.

Each KPI (key performance indicator) needs to be monitored, managed and actioned.

The equation y=f(x) is one I always remember

Y: the outcome or outcomes, result or results, that you want

X: the inputs, factors or whatever is necessary to get the outcome (there can be more than one possible x)

F: the function or process that will take the inputs and make them into the desired outcome

Change the X and you change the Y (limit the variation in X we limit the variation in Y)

#manufacturing #ukmanufacturing #manufacturinguk #gbmfg #ukmfg #smeuk #sme #producitivty

Best Times to Post to LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook 2019

Most Marketers, Business Owners, Social Media Associates are always trying to find the magical time to post on each platform, unfortunately there is no magical time, there is no cheat, no silver bullet.

It depends on your ideal audience, industry, products/services, content, consistency (always be mindful of consistency), there are multiple variables in play when posting to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Knowing the best times based on overall engagement will certainly give guidance and may even help to strengthen your social media strategy, but as with all things marketing, test it.

Sprout Social (based on their data of 25000+ customer interactions) have listed the best times to post on some of the major platforms.

Here’s an overview of the engagement reports for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook


LinkedIn has seen significant increase in overall engagement, potentially making it a bigger consideration for your B2B marketing posts.

Sprout’s data shows the best time to post on LinkedIn is Wednesday, between 9am and 10am, and then at 12pm.

A quick overview of each weekday shows that; Monday is between 1pm-3pm; Tuesday is 9am, 1pm & 3pm; Wednesday 9am, 12pm; Thursday 9am, 1pm-3pm; Friday there seems to be a shift in morning to 10am-11am. (this is just my view but you can see the image for each platform and make your own judgements)

Best engagement is Wednesday with the least engagement occurring on Sundays.

Sprout LinkedIn


It still looks like Wednesday and Friday are producing results as previous data, with Tuesday to Friday at 9am being a big block, but you can see that there is a band covering Tuesday to Friday from 9am-11am as well. The Twitter engagement I do find interesting as there are quite a few views you could take on this. Again, try and test!

Sprout says that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to post your tweets overall, which you can see from the image, a big band cutting across 9am-3pm, Saturday sees the least engagement.

Sprout Twitter


The data suggests that updates posted on Facebook on Wednesdays, between 9am and 3pm, see the most engagement, Sprout narrows this down slightly from their analysis to between 11am-1pm. Thursday sees a good band between 9am-2pm and Friday also seeing high engagement between 9am-11am.

Sprout’s data also suggests that Sundays see the least amount of Facebook engagement overall.

Sprout Facebook

Excellent data from Sprout and you can view the full report ‘here’ for more on their opinion and analysis.

BullS*^t Sales Tactics – Don’t Do it!

I was stood at Exhibition Floor Layout today trying to find a particular company I had arranged to meet, I began to notice and listen to the conversation of 3 Sales People next to me, they seemed to be from the same company or team (I’m assuming here, which I should never do, but they were acting together), they were pointing at individual companies and talking negatively about each one, and organising amongst themselves how they were going to approach and try and rattle each one of them, not a care on who was in the vicinity listening to their negative connotations.

Now, I’m not for this, in fact I think its BS tactics, lowest of the low and it surprised the hell out of me. My view is if you’d put half as much energy into working with your potential Customers, finding new customers, listening to customers, you wouldn’t need to do this, as you’re a level above, operating on a higher plain. You could also have the potential of working collaboratively on accounts you may not dream of getting.

For me, if you’re operating with these sorts of tactics you’ve lost as an individual and a business. If you want to compete and win, do it through Adding Value to your Customer or potential Customer.



Lesley Russon:

Competitors are only annoying if they are winning your percentage of your targeted business. I always believe if you watch your competitors you can learn about their weaknesses and strengths and you can only learn how to focus and target your own SWOT’s to learn and improve how you manage your business. I am assuming (as I don’t have all the facts) but it they had a good leader they would teach them marketing intelligence and how to act on it ??

Steven Taylor:

Never talk down your competition, ensure your company performance is the best it can be. These so-called salesmen will only sell by undercutting prices and over promising. Short term gain only with very low profit margins and no future

Rebecca Morgan:

When we collaborate, we all improve and push standards higher for ours and our customers’ benefits.

Simon Lane:

Probably learned their tactics from the protagonists in the debacle otherwise known as the Conservative Leadership Elections

Wayne Wilding:

Trash talking competitors has no value to your prospects/customers. Negative language will put people off you, and bore them. They do not want to hear why the other lot are bad, they want to know why you are good. Trash talking makes it seem like you have nothing else to offer.

And, if nothing else, mentioning your competitors might just remind your prospect/customer about them. You might find your customers giving them a call as soon as you leave.

#ukmanufacturing #ukmfg #customerfocus #sales #customervalue #addvalue


Make It Ugly!

Expose the Problem for What it is – Waste, Cost, In-Efficiency

Always find it interesting how we accept things in our manufacturing processes, we’ve highlighted it as an issue so many times, but it hasn’t been resolved or it has always been like that.

Example, we are part finishing product due to a number of issues, so our part finished inventory is through the roof, which brings in a whole host of risks, trace-ability, control of stock, increased logistics handling. These then become the norm within our operations, and we forget to ask why as they a now becoming hidden.

We need to highlight these situations in such a way that is looks F^kin Ugly to everyone… (not introducing another step in the process of putting part finished stock back into store)…leave it where it is, piling up (nice, neatly and Safe as not to be damaged) but certainly enough to get people questioning WHY? And TAKING ACTION?

Highlight through SQCDP Process Confirmation, KPIs, get the right people in front of it and as close to where the work is being done.

#ukmanufacturing #ukmfg #leanmanufacturing #manufacturing #lean #improvement #getthingsdone #growth #operations

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OEE Update

Lately I’ve been asked to comment and give talks on OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) and the missed opportunities within Manufacturing, I include Logistics with this as well, under the OLE measure (Overall Logistics Effectiveness), so decided to do an update. (Original article ‘Click Here‘)

OEE as I’ve previously stated is one of the key KPI’s (Key performance Indicators) I always use in helping me understand the problems and issues within my production operations.

Industry Standard is between 45% and 65% OEE, that means there is an whole other factory waiting to be tapped into and used more effectively.

Below is a short video of an excel spreadsheet I decided to put together that gives some automation and storage of information for use, test on a bottleneck process or production line/cell, if you would like a copy of the spreadsheet, please fill in the form below and I’ll send it to you.

My belief with OEE, is test first, develop your front line team in understanding the technique and highlighting the problems, you can then go fully automated at a future date, but do not miss the step of developing your team.

I’m sure someone can make a better job of the excel automation than me, but it’s there if you want it.

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Business Funding

It can be a pain in understanding what funding is out there for businesses, so we have collated all the schemes and programmes currently covering English Postcodes and we’ll be keeping this up to date moving forward.

The image below is an example of the detail we have, it is huge so we are unable to display it all. If you would like to know more about what’s on offer in your area, please fill in the form below including your postcode and a brief description of why you want the funding, we’ll then be in contact.
Business Funding

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£1.5m Order Lost – Growth Mindset

An SME Manufacturer £8m turnover, LOST an order worth £1.5 Million to a competitor that didn’t even manufacture, just outsourced. Due to their continuous learning, performance and mindset of not concentrating on what to shrink, but rather concentrating on what to grow they had no issues in recovering the situation. Now there may be a million and one reasons why they lost that order, but their growth mindset, drive to be the best and ability to react as team in the face of that situation is what counts. Their thirst to continually be better.

No matter how well you do what you do, someday somebody is going to come along and try to do it better. That’s the nature of competition.

growth mindset

I’ve spoken to so many businesses over the past few months where complacency seems to be present, we’re doing alright, we’re making money, why do we need to improve. FOR EXACTLY THAT REASON ABOVE. You cannot predict the future, but you can ensure you are giving yourself, your team, and business the best opportunity to react to the positive and negatives that come along. It’s been fantastic to support, work with and see the transformation of the team and business above, remember…

Strive to be better today than your were yesterday, plan to be better tomorrow than you are today.

#UKManufacturing #GrowthMindset #Improve #Leadership #manufacturing

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The Lean Bug!

Whatever you think of when you see the words “Lean Manufacturing” or “Lean Thinking” you cannot get away from the fact it is a set of business principles, which, when applied, deliver exceptional results.

Over my career, I have seen the impact and benefit that Lean Manufacturing brings to any size of business, from an Engineer (in the 90s) working at an Small SME to a Corporate Exec (2009) implementing Lean Strategies.

I personally got the bug for Lean working for a small company called Linread Northbridge (although part of McKechnie Plc). We were making precision fasteners for several sectors but predominately Aerospace. The MD at the time gave me a book to read on “Kaizen” and I was hooked. From then on I have implemented Lean within every business I have worked in to now helping Manufacturing SMEs with short, high impact Interventions to major Lean Programmes and Strategies.

My first Kaizen event in the 90s was facilitating a SMED event on a Header Machine that took a whole shift to change-over from one product to the next, being trained, coached and mentored by a Japanese Sensei. We got the change-over down to 30 minutes. Through using the correct KPIs and driving root cause analysis I’ve increased production output and capacity in manufacturing cells that businesses have said couldn’t be done. I’ve moved 100+ machining centres within 5 days to create flow and as an Exec have put in place Strategies that realised Savings of +£15m within its first year.

Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

I’ve heard the words “it won’t work here” more times than anything and I can tell you it’s Bu&*s*&t. The smallest improvement can have the biggest impact and everyday day is a day to grow and develop your potential. (Marginal Gains – The doctrine of marginal gains is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together.)

The skill is adapting, modifying and re-designing those business principles to ensure you get measurable and sustained business performance, after all in its simplest form all you are doing is looking at a time line from ‘Sales & Marketing through to production, production through to Customer Delivery’ and reducing that time line by removing the Non-Value Added wastes within it. Yes there are loads of tools and techniques that go hand in hand with that, but the biggest one is leveraging the knowledge within your people to drive continuous improvement.
Lean Manufacturing is not merely a set of mutually supporting techniques, it’s a change in the organisation’s culture and thought processes. The benefits to any business (regardless of size) are huge, and are only limited (in my opinion) by your Organisation’s Culture and Leadership Behaviour. Companies that fully commit to Lean dramatically outperform their competitors over time.
So get as close as possible to where the work is being done, lead from the ground up to first find what the real problems are and then face and resolve the underlying challenges.

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Miss that moment – and you start to decline.

“There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically to rise to the next level of performance. Miss that moment – and you start to decline.” – Andy Gove

My personal view and experience is that it’s more than one point in time.

SMEs are characterised by their ability to adapt easily to market changes and their lean organisational structure (not as in Lean Manufacturing), which results in a more dynamic environment and a quicker decision making process. Although SME businesses vary widely in size and capacity for growth generally they will all follow a similar path: going from Owner/Entrepreneur with two or three employees to a business aiming for £10m or even £20m per year, and experiencing 20%/30% year on year growth and upwards along this journey. The sketch below illustrates an example of this, showing where most businesses may feel the pinch points of growth at key intersections.

SME Journey and Growth

Zero to £5m

The hard work really kicks in here. This part of the journey is often the one that is the most lonely, but often the most exciting. But it is here that most business owners feel the pains. Because it can be a lonely place, it is easy for owners to doubt themselves, they also don’t know what they don’t know which can be a limiting factor. And as an owner one of the main areas of responsibility is simply getting things done, which means you are working in your business as a manufacturer, and not working on it as a strategic leader.

In smaller SMES, management structures are also small with most owners being very hands-on. People are stretched across all functions all processes. Systems are not in place, IT is minimal or non-existent and there is a lack of standard processes. Utilising the Continuous Improvement and Management graph we can see that all levels are being worked with a very lean structure. Small customer projects, odd-job shop style of working.

SME Zero to £5m

As we get closer to a turnover of £5m, it becomes clear that things need to change. We are then moving from that odd-job, one off customer delivery to a mix of bigger projects, possible increased volumes and an increase in market share from your customers. As we start to scale-up from the initial start-up, decisions have to be made about the organisational structure, the company’s technology infrastructure, its business and marketing strategy, etc. With regard to organisational structure, you might now start to see the requirement for supervisory position(s) to take on more of the owners duties, the labour force growing, new machines, loans, investment, functional departments, Operations, Quality, Sales, Technical, Finance. This is where it can be rise or decline with those decisions. In scaling and growth and the opportunities it also brings its own set of problems, (albeit they are nice problems to have because its growth).

£5m to £10m

IT Systems and Planning may start to become an issue here, Microsoft Excel may no longer be good enough to manage your shop floor requirements (although I have seen £100m business still using excel but it was beginning to creak), and you are likely at this level to be considering MRP/ERP implementations. You may also look at outsourcing some functions, like Sales, Human Resources, Engineering Support, Quality, Quality Accreditation. All this requires a lot of investment in terms of time, money and energy. You need to do your homework to avoid costly mistakes, especially where IT is concerned, but it’s all opportunity.

And this stage, the business owner is now becoming more removed from the day to day operational tasks on the shop floor. This can be a very uncomfortable feeling in one or two ways. Firstly, the owner may want that hands-on role and not relinquish that part. It could be that the business is now at the stage where the owner is stopping it from growing, the entrepreneurial side is restricted as they are tied to the business. There a number of factors and variables in play, and having the right people is key, being a good leader is fundamental (at all stages).

SME £5m to £10m

£10m upwards

Financial Audits are required at this point (although some companies can be exempt if they satisfy certain criteria), so businesses need to be aware of the UK Audit requirements. Similar issues and opportunities still arise, but on a grander scale. Organisational structures are still fundamental, we might now start to see the need for Middle Management. We may also be looking to diversify into new markets, take on bigger orders, and higher volume. From £5m and up, some of your customers may not be the ones you want to deal with now, the one-off, low volume, job shop may not be your ideal customer. You might be seeing more of a need for Product Flow and Cells (Lean Manufacturing is a must from when you first start up), competition is high so you cannot stand still, even if your decision is to stay at a certain level. You will need to be driving for improvements to maintain the status quo, and your service has to be exceptional. Collaboration with a network of Manufacturers and or Partners, in my opinion, is key in this new world, and can bring some fantastic opportunities for growth. Again, IT infrastructure comes into play as the business is getting bigger: more employees, management leadership. The addition of new premises or additional buildings on the same industrial estate (this is where having a world class logistics operations pays dividends in not impacting your efficiency/productivity). The opportunities may now open up bringing the out-sourced services back in house, Sales and Human Resources, etc. At this level, you are likely to be making informed decisions based around data. Strategy alignment throughout the organisation is required, communicated and disseminated so everyone in the organisation knows the direction the company is going in and what the priorities are.

SME £10m upwards

Every business is different. One business’s pinch point may be at £3.5m another’s £7.5m but there will be very similar decisions to be made, but at this level the advantage is that businesses are likely to be able to make these decisions in a more informed way through data. Companies may not achieve sustained profitable growth unless they draft in the specialist skills required at the right time for the business. It’s the maxim that we don’t know what we don’t know. And the best advice is to seek advice from the experts in order to shift the dial in the right direction. This is something we can certainly help with, just contact the number below.

Ask yourself:

How much will it cost you not to resolve the issues that you are currently facing now or in the immediate future? How much will it cost you not to eliminate that pain? What are the lost opportunities on not taking your business to the next level or indeed keeping it at the level you want?

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